The Japanese American Internment refers to the forced imprisonment of Japanese residents of the US — about two-thirds of them citizens of America and born on American soil — that occurred after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. Many modern historians and even political officials of the time condemned this action — called Executive Order 9066 — which was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. It immediately ordered most American Japanese into what have been termed prison camps, internment camps or even concentration camps (Roosevelt called them the latter), because many officials feared that even American citizens of Japanese descent might attempt hostile acts against the US.
Though President Roosevelt’s first inaugural address included the famous quote that there is “nothing to fear but fear itself,” most contend that the Japanese American Internment was motivated by fear, and by increasing hatred of the Japanese country during WWII. Although there had been a few incidents of Japanese Americans turning against the US, the majority of people interned were law-abiding citizens, and government reports studying the matter since have concluded that interment was not necessary from a military or country security standpoint.
Once the Japanese American Internment was authorized, Japanese American citizens were almost immediately evacuated into military controlled camps. This required many of them to abandon property they had worked hard to obtain, and few citizens, even if they had relatives serving in the US military, were exempt. Many lost rights to their property forever. In a few instances, neighbors of those imprisoned held and worked farms and other businesses until they were released from the camps.
In all, about 112,000 people were officially held in internment camps, spread across the US, from 1943-1945. In December of 1944, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Japanese American Internment violated the Civil Rights of citizens. Those interned were mainly released in January of 1945, given $25 US dollars (USD) and a train ticket back to their former homes, if they still were theirs. This enforced imprisonment created anti-American sentiment for some, but for others, they were simply glad to be released.
Conditions in Japanese American Internment camps were generally poor. People weren’t always prepared for differences in the weather, and families were sometimes separated. Since there was little time to prepare for imprisonment, many suffered with not enough warm clothing, and lived in shelters that did nothing to keep out the cold. Food could be scarce and support for each person in most camps was limited to about 45 cents a day. Depending upon the camp, some people were allowed to go outside to work or attend school, while other camps had greater restrictions and curfews. There were also internment camps for Germans and Italians, though these were fewer in number.
In 1988, after many years of debate, the US Congress agreed to pay $20,000 USD to each person who had been interned, even if they were no longer US citizens. It may surprise some to learn that paying reparations was strongly opposed by some congressmen, who argued that the Japanese were better off for being interned. This view was clearly not shared by the bulk of Congress or by the Japanese who had suffered this fate simply by being Japanese.